Friday Review

A classic reincarnated

A scene from the movie Madumati  

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Rinki Roy Bhattacharya explores how an unlikely film “Madhumati” was born out of her father and celebrated filmmaker Bimal Roy’s oeuvre

When planning the golden jubilee celebration of the Bimal Roy classic “Madhumati”, it struck Rinki Roy Bhattacharya to explore a book on the subject. She looked to restore a link. “I felt something was broken, a link, a promise. I embarked on a journey to address that unfortunate cultural gap. The fact that Bimal Roy was my father however proved challenging to me as a writer. I experienced a constant struggle to separate the two distinct and powerful identities, the filmmaker from my father,” she writes in her introduction to “Madhumati, Untold Stories From Behind The Scenes”, published by Rupa.

The well-crafted book is a story narrated by Rinki through anecdotes and her own remembrances, like the first time she met Dilip Kumar Sahab, his picture pasted on her bedroom door, how she yearned to be his beloved, her vivid memory of his light-blue Impala Studebaker with BMW 2424 number, her gracious acknowledgement of Deep Bhatt, who took her to the locations where “Madhumati” was shot in Kumaon. The book is an interesting read for all Bimal Roy fans and especially those who fell in love with “Madhumati”, for its gripping tale and also the enchanting music of Salil Chowdhury, the haunting Aaje Re Mai To Kab Se Khadi Is Paar still a rage.

Replete with anecdotes and some little known facets of the iconic movie, the book, as Rinki describes it, is a tribute to Bimal Roy, a master of the craft. As Vyjayanthimala Bali, the ravishing heroine of the movie, observes, “Madhumati, the innocent tribal girl from the hills, was conceived as a mixture of the earthy and the ethereal. The reincarnation story of Madhumati was treated so artistically by Bimalda that it never went beyond the realm of realism he was renowned for. It will always remain one of the most memorable films of my career.”

When planning the celebration, Rinki felt the desire to write on “Madhumati”. “I realised there was still a story to narrate, there were some players still around, waiting for recognition. I felt a stab when I went to invite Pran saab for the function and I discovered he had lost his memory. I went to (filmmaker) Hrishikesh Mukherjee and he said he won’t talk about two people (my father and Ashok Kumar). I felt so sad. We all wanted to know about “Madhumati” from them, the film, my father and the actors.”

Of course, Rinki remembers those glorious days. “I remember going for the premiere and it was such fun because we were never bothered about what my father was when it came to filmmaking or watching. But there were so many questions related to the film that begged answers. Why did Bimal Roy make such a film, It was so unlikely. And that is how it all started.”

As a writer, a movie buff and a critic, where would Rinki place “Madhumati”? “I think it is unique. Here is a man who made serious stuff relating to dispossession, tragedy of farmers, untouchability. This is such a distinct film, very unlike any of his other films. No way when I watch the film do I feel that my father was uncomfortable making it. He just takes you off on a melodious journey. It is an absolute musical odyssey. I place it very high. It has its own place and the most definite film on reincarnation till date. “

And what of the remakes of some Bimal Roy films? “One has to look at it independently. Every artist has a right to show his art. Why not? If “Parineeta” is relevant today then why not? They can do it. My father’s “Parineeta” or “Devdas” is still so popular…All I would say is we should not compare them. It is not fair. A remake is often related to the culture and relevance of the times. People have been copying it (“Madhumati”) ad nauseam. It is a very important work and my father’s craft is at his best. My father was well known for his frame, the famous Bimal Roy frame. He never compromised on his craft and for the first time he had 11-12 songs in a film. This was very rare for a Bimal Roy film. He has got a hero, heroine, villain, typical pardesi babu and gaon ki chokri.”

In praise of her father’s work, Rinki adds, “He broke all stereotypes within the popular format and reinvented a story in his own style. It must have been very difficult but the amazing thing is he went along it. And he gave us something really to cherish. It is very compelling. No time and generation thing. Very subtle, love and romance... The way my father portrayed love in the film, the way it progresses, was amazing, the various stages of love, wooing and falling in love. It had its own magic, nostalgic. Today’s audience just loves it.”

“Madhumati” continues to fascinate the audience. Rinki recalls, “I love watching it and for many people it is their favourite. I watched it with today’s generation in a festival and the whole hall was dancing. They were first-time watchers!”

Madhumati remains closest to Rinki and hence this well-written book. “My father never talked about his work. It is closest to me. My father was also engrossed completely in the film, rising early, having early recordings. The film had seven sound tracks and not three as was the norm. It was technically superb.”

What impressed the daughter most was Bimal Roy’s “simplicity and commitment to the work. The way he treated the subject, never pushing the actors. In terms of simplicity he was great. A bit of melodrama was there because it portrayed life. The way the actors delivered their lines, dignity and decency, carried his stamp. Sunil Dutt and Balraj Sahni are examples. His work was sometimes autobiographical. My father did not make his actors shout. That is how he was in real life.”

What was Rinki’s favourite Bimal Roy moment? “It is the telephone song sequence from “Sujata” (the Talat Mahmood great Jalte Hain Jiske Liye). In the beginning of the song Nutan gets very emotional. My father told her to hold back her emotions because she had to last until the last stages of the song. You can see this control of emotions by Nutan. My father never directed, he actually guided his actors. He had other people to act it out. My father would give little tips. Pran saab and Vyjayanthiji confessed his presence was all that was needed for them to give inspired performances.”

A proud daughter, Rinki concludes, “I could not have asked for more. I was so privileged to be my father’s daughter. He was so caring, so sensitive, kept everything simple and was not at all patriarchal.”

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Printable version | Dec 17, 2016 6:18:49 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-classic-reincarnated/article11063409.ece